The Importance of Historical Documents
The National Archives holds historical documents of the U.S. Government (federal, congressional, and presidential records) on behalf of the American public so that citizens, public servants, Congress, and the Courts can obtain the information they need to exercise their rights and responsibilities. Citizens use National Archives documents to hold the U.S. government—including the President, the courts, and other Federal employees—accountable for their actions.
The Value of Historical Documents
The historical U.S. Government documents that are most likely to be stolen are those that would be marketable to manuscript collectors and dealers, particularly items with the names, images, and signatures of notable individuals or a relationship to a notable event (e.g., a war, disaster, or celebration). Illegal attempts may be made to sell such documents over the Internet or through private auctions or catalog sales.
Removing historical U.S. government documents from public custody at the National Archives hurts all of us and is an illegal theft, prosecutable by law. The following laws prohibit theft or removal of government documents:
- Concealment, Removal, or Mutilation of Records (18 USC 2071)
- Theft of Government Property (18 USC 641)
- Theft of major artwork (18 USC 668)
- Federal Records Act of 1950, as amended, 44 USC chapters 21, 29, 31, and 33 (including Preservation, Arrangement, Duplication, Exhibition of Records, Records Management by the Archivist of the United States, Records Management by Federal Agencies, Disposal of Records)
- Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949, as amended (40 USC 484(k)(3) and (4))
- Freedom of Information Act of 1974, as amended (5 USC 552)
- Privacy Act of 1974 (5 USC 552a).
Two examples of the application of these laws to thefts from the National Archives are documented in the following NARA press release links:
Consult other applicable NARA Basic Laws and Authorities.
If you would like to help NARA look for missing historical U.S. government documents, please contact the National Archives.